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One American writer's pilgrimage to discover China's greatest poets

By Ma Danning (People's Daily Online)    16:26, November 03, 2016

Bill Porter

Debates over the necessity of educating Chinese youth in ancient poetry and prose are never-ending. Some question whether reading these sophisticated ancient works really help young people in a tangible way. That's why an American writer's passionate tribute to China's ancient literary tradition has moved many Chinese readers.

Bill Porter, better known as Red Pine, spent four years tracing the steps of China’s 36 most important poets, ranging from China’s earliest poet Qu Yuan (340–278 BC) to prominent poets from the Tang (618-907) and Song (960—1279)  Dynasties. Porter visited their graves, birthplaces, villages and cities where they once lived, as well as locations they immortalized in their poems.

One place Porter visited was a small village in northwestern China’s Shaanxi province, where an old man guided him through a vast farmland replete with corn, eggplant, onions and green beans. Eventually Porter and his guide arrived at a large cave filled with garbage – the less-than-dignified final resting place of great poet Du Mu (803-852 AC) of the Tang Dynasty. Du Mu’s realistic poems shone during the most prosperous age of Chinese poetry.

On top of a mountain range in eastern China’s Shandong province, Porter set out three small wine cups, filling them with whiskey he brought from the U.S. He then toasted to his two imaginary guests, Li Bai and Du Fu, in the place where the two poets first met, more than 1,000 years ago. Porter said he brought the whiskey on his journey because wine is a recurring image in Chinese poetry, expressing a variety of important sentiments.

On a trip to Xi’an, Porter walked to the top of a tall historical structure in the city center. His vision swept across the modern city and arrived at Zhongnan Mountain, the majesty of which Tang Dynasty poet Wang Wei once described in his brilliant verses.

A Chinese edition of Porter’s book based on his travels, ”Finding Them Gone: Visiting China's Poets of the Past,” was published in September. His passion for China’s ancient literary tradition has become increasingly recognized among Chinese readers.

Bill Porter on his journey on Zhongnan Mountain, Shaanxi, in 1980s. 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Ma Danning, Bianji)

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